It’s no secret that the No. 1 statistic determining wins and losses in the NFL is turnover differential. Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett repeats himself on a daily basis, emphasizing the importance of “the ball” to his coaching staff and players.
So Garrett is well aware of how fortunate the Cowboys were to beat the New York Giants on Sunday night when they were minus-3 in turnovers.
“You have to do a lot of other things well to overcome them,” Garrett said. “The stats on the ball in this league are overwhelmingly compelling, and we share them with the players every year.
“It’s remarkable how similar they are from year to year, going all the way back to 50 years ago. Plus-one, you win this many. Plus-two, you win this many. To be able to overcome what we did last night, to be minus-3 in a ballgame and win it, there were a lot of other factors involved.”
Garrett believed the percentage of teams who win with minus-3 turnovers is something around 10 percent. And it would make sense, particularly against a team such as the Giants who capitalized on those turnovers.
New York turned the three turnovers into 17 points, including a field goal drive, a fumble returned for a touchdown and an intercept that set up the offense for a touchdown at Dallas’ 1.
Equally important is that the Cowboys failed to get a takeaway on defense. A year ago, the defense ranked second in the league with 31 takeaways, but didn’t get any during the season opener.
Sunday marked the first time since October 2009 at Kansas City that Dallas won a game without having a takeaway.
“We’ll continue to work on it,” Garrett said. “It’s one of the things we work on more than anything else.”
Garrett isn’t going to use one of his challenges by accident. He knows the importance of them.
He burnt his first late in the first quarter, challenging an incomplete ruling on an Odell Bekcham Jr. play that he felt could have been a fumble instead.
It didn’t take long for him to use his second challenge. Early in the second quarter, Eli Manning hit tight end Larry Donnell for 13 yards. It was ruled a catch as Donnell fell to the ground with the ball coming loose.
An animated Garrett didn’t hesitate to use his last challenge on that play, as it was the difference between a fourth down punt for the Giants and a first down.
“To me, that’s a turnover,” Garrett said. “It was a third-down play that would have been a first down. So that’s no different than intercepting a pass or a fumble or whatever. We were able to prevent them from having that first down and get possession of the ball.”
Not to mention that Garrett and the Cowboys had spent all off-season discussing what is and isn’t a catch in the aftermath of Dez Bryant’s controversial non-catch in the playoff loss at Green Bay.
If that challenge didn’t go the Cowboys’ way, who knows what Garrett would have done.
Linebacker Sean Lee admitted feeling sore after Sunday’s game. He hadn’t played a full game since December 2013. But he did make his presence felt.
Lee led the team in tackles with nine, including a tackle for loss.
“I’m sore, there’s no doubt,” Lee said afterward. “I’m sure the next two days will be tough, but I’ll come around and be ready for practice. I feel great.”
Coach Jason Garrett praised Lee’s return, and liked how active and around the ball his weak side linebacker was all night.
“He seemed to be around the ball and when you watch the tape, it was pretty evident,” Garrett said. “Very productive. I think he had nine or 10 tackles in the game. And just a number of good hits both in space, but also in the interior of the defense. He looked comfortable.”
Lee played all 62 plays on defense. He and safety Barry Church were the only defenders to do that.
▪ Left guard Ronald Leary injured his groin Sunday. Garrett said the Cowboys are taking it “day by day.”
▪ The Cowboys waived tackle Jordan Mills and are expected to sign veteran lineman Charles Brown.
▪ Garrett on running back Christine Michael, who was inactive for Sunday’s game: “He’s worked hard, both in the meetings and after practice, to try to get himself to understand what we’re doing. He’s made a lot of progress in a short period of time.”
▪ NFL Network will air a 90-minute replay of the Cowboys-Giants game twice this week – Tuesday at 11 p.m. and Wednesday at 3 p.m. – on NFL Replay. The show features bonus NFL Films and NFL Network footage, including coaches’ commentary and sound from the locker rooms and sidelines.